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Brewster Bevis

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) has been a staunch supporter of keeping public notices in newspapers and online to ensure the numerous Florida businesses — many of which are small businesses — represented by AIF can easily locate and access critical information.

A recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey showed Floridians have identified newspapers as the place they want to get this critical information. Yet, year after year, there are threats to move these notices to an online-only format.

If passed, these measures would most certainly diminish public notice, making it extremely difficult for businesses and consumers to find the critical information public notices communicate.

The 2019 legislative session won’t be any different. Currently, there are several pieces of legislation filed — Senate Bill 1710, Senate Bill 1676 and House Bill 1235 — that we urge lawmakers to reject, as they would diminish public notice by authorizing the publication of public notices on specified, publicly accessible governmental websites instead of in a newspaper.

If this legislation passes, the current notice requirement that leverages both the internet and print media to cast the widest net will be eliminated. Consumers and businesses across the state will lose access to public notice.

Florida’s businesses and individuals have the right to expect critical information to be easily accessible in a local, trusted source — their newspaper — so either they, a relative, a friend, a neighbor or a customer has an opportunity to discover a public notice before action is taken.

An internet-only option for public notice is just not adequate. The internet, and especially governmental-controlled websites, have been proved to be unreliable; public websites can be hacked; information on the internet cannot be authenticated; and it is difficult to archive critical information on the internet.

Websites can be there one day and gone the next, and there is simply no mechanism to ensure these important public records will be permanently archived. Overall, the internet simply cannot be exclusively entrusted to disseminate reliable information to Floridians.

Florida newspapers, on the other hand, have the broadest dissemination of public notice — put in place by Florida lawmakers to ensure this critical information is transparent and in the sunshine. Not only can businesses and consumers find public notices in newspapers, but notices are also required to be placed on the newspapers’ websites and uploaded to FloridaPublicNotices.com — an independent website operated by the Florida Press Association. Also, Florida newspapers will send, via email, any public notices they print to anyone who requests to receive them, free of charge.

It is paramount that public notice remains protected, and individuals and businesses’ right to this critical information is protected. And, while we are hopeful the Florida Legislature, which has historically protected and even bolstered public notice by ensuring its broadest possible dissemination in print and online, will once again reject this bad public policy. AIF asks all lawmakers to vote no on SB 1710, SB 1676 and HB 1235.

— Bevis is the senior vice president of state and federal affairs for Associated Industries of Florida. Known as “The Voice of Florida Business” in the Sunshine State, AIF has represented the principles of prosperity and free enterprise before the three branches of state government since 1920. A voluntary association of diversified businesses, AIF was created to foster an economic climate in Florida conducive to the growth, development, and welfare of industry and business and the people of the state.